Monday, May 12, 2014

Incarnational Truth v. Propositional Truth

Below is a rough translation and some initial comments regarding John 14:1-14, the Revised Common Lectionary gospel text for Sunday, May 18, 2014. Included in this text is 14:6, a text that is often the pretext for a conversation/argument about the exclusivity of coming to God through Christ. I will address this verse at length after the translation. å

1 Μὴ ταρασσέσθω ὑμῶν ἡ καρδία: πιστεύετε εἰς τὸν θεόν, καὶ εἰς ἐμὲ πιστεύετε.
“Do not let your heart be troubled; Believe in God, believe also in me.
ταρασσέσθω: PPImpv 3s, ταράσσω, 1) to agitate, trouble (a thing, by the movement of its parts to and fro)
πιστεύετε: PAImpv 2p, πιστεύω, 1) to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place  confidence in 
πιστεύετε: PAImpv 2p, πιστεύω, 1) to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place  confidence in 
1. Four things about this first sentence make it interesting. A) The verb ταράσσω appears here in the passive imperative, instead of the more familiar active imperative. B) It is in the 3rd person instead of the more familiar 2nd person for imperatives. C) The negative, Μὴ, is subjunctive rather than indicative. Finally, D) some translations have ‘heart’ and others ‘hearts,’ because while the verb and ‘heart’ are single, the possessive ‘your’ is plural.
2. I suppose that if there had not been a comma added to the Greek text along the way, the last sentence might typically read, “Believe in God and believe in me.” καὶ can be translated either ‘and’ or ‘also.’

2 ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ τοῦ πατρός μου μοναὶ πολλαί εἰσιν: εἰ δὲ μή, εἶπον ἂν ὑμῖν ὅτι πορεύομαι ἑτοιμάσαι τόπον ὑμῖν;
In my father’s house are many places to stay; and if not, would I have said to you that I am going to prepare a place for you?
εἰσιν: PAI 3p, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
εἶπον: AAI 1s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
πορεύομαι: PMI 1s, πορεύομαι, 1) to lead over, carry over, transfer  1a) to pursue the journey on which one has entered, to continue on  one's journey 
ἑτοιμάσαι: AAInf, ἑτοιμάζω, 1) to make ready, prepare
1. I’m noticing that older translations (KJV, YLT) have ‘mansions’ and newer ones (NIV, ESV) have ‘rooms’ for μοναὶ. Its only other use in the NT is later in this chapter, 14:23, where Jesus says, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (NIV). I suppose the newer translations are just trying to fit the μοναὶ into “my father’s house.” 
2. Perhaps the previous disclosure that Jesus has in mind is in the text just prior to this one, John 13:31-38. There, Jesus tells them that one of them will betray him, then this:  
When he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
 Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, where are you going?’ Jesus answered, ‘Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterwards.’ Peter said to him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’ Jesus answered, ‘Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.

3 καὶ ἐὰν πορευθῶ καὶ ἑτοιμάσω τόπον ὑμῖν, πάλιν ἔρχομαι καὶ παραλήμψομαι ὑμᾶς πρὸς ἐμαυτόν, ἵνα ὅπου εἰμὶ ἐγὼ καὶ ὑμεῖς ἦτε.
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I am coming again and receive you to myself, in order that where I am you may be also.
πορευθῶ: APSubj 1s, πορεύομαι, 1) to lead over, carry over, transfer  1a) to pursue the journey on which one has entered, to continue on  one's journey
ἑτοιμάσω: AASubj 1s, ἑτοιμάζω, 1) to make ready, prepare
ἔρχομαι: PMI 1s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come 
παραλήμψομαι: FMI 1s, παραλαμβάνω, 1) to take to, to take with one's self, to join to one's self 
εἰμὶ: PAI 1s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
ἦτε: PASubj 2p, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
1. While the verb ἔρχομαι (coming) is often translated as a future tense, it is present and answers the conditional “If I go … I am coming again.”

4 καὶ ὅπου [ἐγὼ] ὑπάγω οἴδατε τὴν ὁδόν.
And where [I] am going you have seen the way.”
ὑπάγω: PAI 1s, ὑπάγω, 1) to lead under, bring under  2) to withdraw one's self, to go away, depart 
οἴδατε: PerfAI 2p, εἴδω, ἴδω, an obsol. form of the present tense, the place of which is supplied by ὁράω; to perceive.
1. Like in last week’s reading (John 10:5 – the sheep have not known the thief’s voice like they know the shepherd’s voice) John uses the perfect tense for ἴδω (have known). The fact that they have known – with the perfect tense indicating a present state based on past activity – becomes the point of question here. They seem not to know that they have known.

5 Λέγει αὐτῷ Θωμᾶς, Κύριε, οὐκ οἴδαμεν ποῦ ὑπάγεις: πῶς δυνάμεθα τὴν ὁδὸν εἰδέναι;
Thomas says to him, “Lord we have not seen where you are going; how are we able to have seen the way?”
Λέγει: PAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
οἴδαμεν: PerfAI 3p, εἴδω, ἴδω, an obsol. form of the present tense, the place of which is supplied by ὁράω; to perceive.
ὑπάγεις: PAI 2s, ὑπάγω, 1) to lead under, bring under  2) to withdraw one's self, to go away, depart 
δυνάμεθα: PMI 1p, δύναμαι, 1) to be able, have power whether by virtue of one's own ability and  resources, or of a state of mind
εἰδέναι: PerfAInf εἴδω, ἴδω, an obsol. form of the present tense, the place of which is supplied by ὁράω; to perceive.
1. This is quite a direct challenge by Thomas to Jesus, disputing whether they have, in fact, seen where Jesus is going. Peter’s question to that point in c.13 (see above, v.2 comment 2) is not really answered in a direction-specific sort of way.

6 λέγει αὐτῷ [ὁ] Ἰησοῦς, Ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ ὁδὸς καὶ ἡ ἀλήθεια καὶ ἡ ζωή: οὐδεὶς ἔρχεται πρὸς τὸν πατέρα εἰ μὴ δι' ἐμοῦ.
Jesus says to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life; No one comes to the father except through me.
λέγει: PAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
εἰμὶ: PAI 1s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
ἔρχεται: PMI 3s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come 
1. This seems to be the decisive answer to Thomas’ challenge (and to Peter’s question from c.13). I will comment on it below, because I am in awe of this verse and I fear that it is misused a lot.

7  εἰ ἐγνώκατέ με, καὶ τὸν πατέρα μου γνώσεσθε: καὶ ἀπ' ἄρτι γινώσκετε αὐτὸν καὶ ἑωράκατε αὐτόν.
  εἰ ἐγνώκειτέ με, καὶ τὸν πατέρα μου ἂν ᾔδειτε: καὶ ἀπ' ἄρτι γινώσκετε αὐτὸν καὶ ἑωράκατε αὐτόν.
If you have known me, also you will know my father; and even now you know him and have seen him.”
If you had known me, also you had seen my father; and even now you know him and have seen him.”
ἐγνώκατέ: PerfAI 2p, γινώσκω, 1) to learn to know, come to know, get a knowledge of perceive, feel 
ἐγνώκειτέ: PluperfAI 2p, γινώσκω, 1) to learn to know, come to know, get a knowledge of perceive, feel 
γνώσεσθε: FMI 2p, γινώσκω, 1) to learn to know, come to know, get a knowledge of perceive, feel 
ᾔδειτε: PluperfectAI 2p, εἴδω, ἴδω, an obsol. form of the present tense, the place of which is supplied by ὁράω; to perceive.
γινώσκετε: PAI 2p, γινώσκω, 1) to learn to know, come to know, get a knowledge of perceive, feel 
ἑωράκατε: PerfAI 2p, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes  2) to see with the mind, to perceive, know 
1. There is a significant textual variant here, as evidenced by the differing texts on www.greekbible.com and http://greattreasures.org. I hope my color-coding is more helpful than confusing.
2. In addition to differences in tense, the aqua-colored text maintains the parallel verbs γινώσκω and ὁράω in both the first and second parts of the verse.

8 λέγει αὐτῷ Φίλιππος, Κύριε, δεῖξον ἡμῖν τὸν πατέρα, καὶ ἀρκεῖ ἡμῖν.
Philip says to him, “Lord, show to us the father and it is enough for us.”
λέγει: PAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
δεῖξον: AAImpv 2s, δεικνύω, to show, exhibit
ἀρκεῖ: PAI 3s, ἀρκέω, 1) to be possessed of unfailing strength a) to be strong, to suffice, to be enough
1. The word “show” here is the same verb that John uses to describe Jesus showing the disciples his hands and side after the resurrection.

9 λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Τοσούτῳ χρόνῳ μεθ' ὑμῶν εἰμι καὶ οὐκ ἔγνωκάς με, Φίλιππε; ὁ ἑωρακὼς ἐμὲ ἑώρακεν τὸν πατέρα: πῶς σὺ λέγεις, Δεῖξον ἡμῖν τὸν πατέρα;
Jesus says to him, “So much time I am with you and you have not known me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the father; how do you say, ‘Show the father to us’?
λέγει: PAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
εἰμὶ: PAI 1s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
ἔγνωκάς: PerfAI 2s, γινώσκω, 1) to learn to know, come to know, get a knowledge of perceive, feel 
ἑωρακὼς: PerfAPart nsm, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes  2) to see with the mind, to perceive, know 
ἑώρακεν: PerfAI 3s, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes  2) to see with the mind, to perceive, know 
λέγεις: PAI 2s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
Δεῖξον: AAImpv 2s, δεικνύω, to show, exhibit

10 οὐ πιστεύεις ὅτι ἐγὼ ἐν τῷ πατρὶ καὶ ὁ πατὴρ ἐν ἐμοί ἐστιν; τὰ ῥήματα ἃ ἐγὼ λέγω ὑμῖν ἀπ' ἐμαυτοῦ οὐ λαλῶ: ὁ δὲ πατὴρ ἐν ἐμοὶ μένων ποιεῖ τὰ ἔργα αὐτοῦ.
Do you not believe that I am in the father and the father is in me? The words which I say to you I do not speak for myself; But the father who is dwelling in me is doing his works.
πιστεύεις: PAI 2s, πιστεύω, 1) to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place  confidence in 
ἐστιν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
λέγω: PAI 1s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
λαλῶ: PAI 1s, λαλέω, 1) to utter a voice or emit a sound 
μένων: PAPart nsm, μένω, 1) to remain, abide 
ποιεῖ: PAI 3s, ποιέω, 1) to make  1a) with the names of things made, to produce, construct,  form, fashion, etc. 

11 πιστεύετέ μοι ὅτι ἐγὼ ἐν τῷ πατρὶ καὶ ὁ πατὴρ ἐν ἐμοί: εἰ δὲ μή, διὰ τὰ ἔργα αὐτὰ πιστεύετε.
Believe in me because I in the father and the father in me; If not, believe through these works.
πιστεύετέ: PAImpv 2p, πιστεύω, 1) to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place  confidence in
πιστεύετέ: PAImpv 2p, πιστεύω, 1) to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place  confidence in
1. I’m curious as to why so many translations have “believe me” instead of “believe in me,” since μοι is in the dative case, not the accusative.
2. The word ὅτι can be either “that” or “because,” and sometimes works as the beginning of a quote. If one keeps μοι in the dative (believe in me), then I think ‘because’ is the best choice. If one makes μοι into an accusative (believe me) then “that” fits better.
3. Either way, there is no verb in the phrase “I in the father and the father in me.” Most translations supply ‘am.’
4. The relationship between parts a and b of this verse seems to be that one can believe in Jesus because of his co-inherence with God or one can believe in him because of “these works.”

12 ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ὁ πιστεύων εἰς ἐμὲ τὰ ἔργα ἃ ἐγὼ ποιῶ κἀκεῖνος ποιήσει, καὶ μείζονα τούτων ποιήσει, ὅτι ἐγὼ πρὸς τὸν πατέρα πορεύομαι:
Amen amen I say to you, the one who believes in me will likewise do the works which I do, and will do greater than these, because I am going to the father;
λέγω: PAI 1s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
πιστεύων: PAPart nsm, πιστεύω, 1) to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place  confidence in
ποιῶ: PAI 1s, ποιέω, 1) to make  1a) with the names of things made, to produce, construct,  form, fashion, etc. 
ποιήσει: FAI 3s, ποιέω, 1) to make  1a) with the names of things made, to produce, construct,  form, fashion, etc. 
ποιήσει: FAI 3s, ποιέω, 1) to make  1a) with the names of things made, to produce, construct,  form, fashion, etc. 
πορεύομαι: PMI 1s, πορεύομαι, 1) to lead over, carry over, transfer  1a) to pursue the journey on which one has entered, to continue on  one's journey
1. At this point, I think Thomas and Philip have reason to be perplexed, if not a bit miffed. Jesus’ prior responses have stressed his identity with God (identity in the philosophical sense of being one), yet this sentence stresses Jesus’ difference from God. The identity lies in phrases like, “If you have seen me, you have seen God” or “the father and I are one,” whereas the difference here is that Jesus is “going to the father,” implying that they are presently separated.

13 καὶ ὅ τι ἂν αἰτήσητε ἐν τῷ ὀνόματί μου τοῦτο ποιήσω, ἵνα δοξασθῇ ὁ πατὴρ ἐν τῷ υἱῷ:
And whatever you might ask in my name that I will do, in order that the father might be glorified in the son;
αἰτήσητε: AASubj 2p, αἰτέω, 1) to ask, beg, call for, crave, desire, require 
ποιήσω: FAI 1s, ποιέω, 1) to make  1a) with the names of things made, to produce, construct,  form, fashion, etc. 
δοξασθῇ: APSubj 3s, δοξάζω, 1) to think, suppose, be of opinion  2) to praise, extol, magnify, celebrate  3) to honour, do honour to, hold in honour 
1. This verse would be back to stressing the identity between Jesus and God, where what Jesus does glorifies the father in him.

14 ἐάν τι αἰτήσητέ με ἐν τῷ ὀνόματί μου ἐγὼ ποιήσω.
If you might ask me anything in my name I will do.”
αἰτήσητε: AASubj 2p, αἰτέω, 1) to ask, beg, call for, crave, desire, require 
ποιήσω: FAI 1s, ποιέω, 1) to make  1a) with the names of things made, to produce, construct,  form, fashion, etc. 

Comment 1:
John 14:6 is often understood as expressing that Jesus is the only means to salvation, via the words, “I am the way and the truth and the life” followed by “No one comes to the father except through me.” I understand why one would read this verse primarily as an indicator of the exclusiveness of salvation through Christ, but I want to posit that something else is at stake in these words.

In v.4, Jesus uses the perfect tense to say, “Where I am going, you have known the way.” In v.5, Thomas disputes Jesus to say that they have not known where he is going, and asks, “How are we able to have known the way?” It is clear that Thomas is speaking of “the way” as a plan, a route, something plot-able and in that sense knowable. Against that understanding of “the way,” Jesus argues that “the way” is not something knowable like a map, but something knowable like a person. “The way,” along with “the truth, and the life” are incarnational, not conceptual or propositional.

When Jesus speaks of “the way and the truth and the life” is he not speaking of esoteric knowledge, memorized scriptures, or any other ‘subject-object‘ relationship. He is the embodiment of the way and the truth and the life. To know ‘the way and the truth and the life’ is to meet Jesus, a ‘subject-subject’ relationship, where I do not lose my subjectivity and yet ‘the way and the truth and the life’ also has subjectivity. (This is what Robert Scharlemann calls the subjectival subject and objectival subject in relationship, as opposed to the customary way that we encounter concepts – i.e. the subjectival subject and the objectival object. I think it is similar to what Martin Buber calls the ‘I – Thou’ as opposed to ‘I –It’ relationship.)

My point is that incarnational truth may be different in kind from doctrinal, propositional, or conceptual truth. So often, when I hear people read and apply this passage in terms of its exclusivity – that Jesus is the only way to salvation – what they are really saying is ‘this doctrine about Jesus is the truth.’ That is not the same as saying ‘Jesus is the truth.’ I propose that we encounter incarnational truth differently than we encounter doctrinal truth. With doctrinal truth, we – the subject - evaluate, assess, and either accept or dismiss the object/doctrine. Incarnational truth (Hereafter “Truth”) is another subject that we encounter, not an object that we assess. As such Truth makes claims on us even as we make claims on Truth. Truth evaluates us even as we evaluate Truth. Truth does not take away our subjectivity, and we do not take away Truth’s subjectivity. In this sense, our encounter with truth is more like a relationship than a choice.

Jesus’ frustration with Thomas and Philip is that they keep asking about the way the truth and the life as if the way the truth and the life were something other than the very Jesus standing before them. I think this same dynamic is at work in Jesus’ conversation with Martha in John 11 after Lazarus’ death, when Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Perhaps at the heart of all of John’s “I am” statements is this insistence that Jesus really is the way, the truth, the life, the resurrection, the bread of life, the gate to the sheepfold, etc., not that he tells us about those things.

It is possible to read John 14:6 as a statement of the exclusivity of Christianity. The irony is that such readings usually address doctrines about Jesus as opposed to the incarnational reality of Jesus Christ. In this text, ‘the way and the truth and the life’ are incarnational and not propositional. Therefore, to embrace the way, the truth and the life in Christ calls for an epistemology that is relational, not conceptual.


4 comments:

  1. I found this quote from Paul Tillich's The New Being, c.8 "What is Truth?":
    But those of us who dare to face the question of truth may listen to what the Fourth Gospel says about it. The first thing which strikes us is that the truth of which Jesus speaks is not a doctrine but a reality, namely, He Himself: "I am the truth." This is a profound transformation of the ordinary meaning of truth. For us, statements are true or false; people may have truth or not; but how can they be truth, even the truth? The truth of which the Fourth Gospel speaks is a true reality—that reality which does not deceive us if we accept it and live with it. If Jesus says, "I am the truth," he indicates that in Him the true, the genuine, the ultimate reality is present; or, in other words, that God is present, unveiled, undistorted, in His infinite depth, in His unapproachable mystery. Jesus is not the truth because His teachings are true. But His teachings are true because they express the truth which He Himself is. He is more than His words. And He is more than any word said about Him.

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  2. I think it is also helpful to remember that in the context of John's gospel, Satan is the father of lies and a murderer - i.e., Satan achieves his murdering by lying to us (and by us believing) in the necessity, indeed the godliness, of killing. The truth Jesus brings and which he embodies is exactly related to his unmasking the lies we tell, empowered by Satan, that allow us to commit murder thinking that we are doing the will of God. The light and truth that Christ brings and embodies are all about his nonviolent life in the presence of the powers based on death.

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  3. Thanks for the contextual reminder, Mark R.

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  4. Mark, I'm wondering..is there a connection between the disciples' question in chapter 1--"where are you staying?" (meno) and the question of home/mansion (abode) here?

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